So I just gave my first talk at Tulsa Tech Fest last Friday. I’ve spoken at OKCjs (my local usergroup) before, but those were short 5-10 minute lightning talks. This was a full length presentation. And it was about Star Wars. (You can check that out here.)

Regarding the talk itself, I decided to give a beginner talk. Why is that? Well, I don’t feel very qualified to give any other type of talk! Beyond that, I am all about beginner talks. Why is that?

When I attended my first conference (which was not that long ago, if I’m being honest) I was a total newb and I didn’t get much out of it. Through no fault of any person, it’s just the talks were at a higher technical level than I was actually at. I did learn one thing about Node servers, and that was really it. I remember being so bummed, because I thought I was going to learn a bunch and I didn’t.

Not to say I regret going. It was a really fabulous networking opportunity, and I did meet some really cool people. Also I’m able to go watch the videos of the conference and understand far more than I did then.

But suffice to say, I wanted to give a beginner talk because I wanted to attend beginner talks. Be the change you want to see, right?

I did learn a lot from speaking, and I wanted to share some of the things I learned.

Start on time

My talk was scheduled for 75 minutes, or 60 minutes for the presentation and 15 minutes for Q&A. But my room filled up really quickly, and before 3pm, my scheduled time, we had already run out of seats. I didn’t think anyone else would come in, so I started my talk more nearly 10 minutes early.

Learn from my mistake and wait until your scheduled start time, or even two or three minutes after. I had people continue wandering in after 3pm, and they missed the first 10 minutes of my talk, which was a bummer because I’m hilarious. ;)

Engage your audience

I thought I did enough with choosing a unique and funny topic. But the truth is I ended up just sitting in a chair talking to my audience for close to an hour. This is pretty tough for me because I can get really nervous, but I should have been up and moving around, and trying to engage the audience more.

Ask the audience questions

Don’t expect your audience to have questions immediately. They might think of questions later on, or (and this is especially the case in beginner talks) they might be too nervous to ask whatever question they have in mind. Go into the talk planning to ask questions to the audience to get a conversation going. To give you an idea, I came with an example of a project they could create a program for. I asked them how they would handle this program, and then moved on to the plan I created.

But I missed an opportunity to engage my audience further by working with them to make a full plan for their program – entirely their own. Listen for when your audience starts talking, and focus on that, even if it means deviating from your notes.

Come in with code

I didn’t do any live coding, nor did I give any code examples. My talk was about using your skills to better your community, and while I gave examples of projects, I didn’t give any code examples. If I have the opportunity to give this talk again, I will do more of a workshop, and actually use the tools I’ve mentioned, instead of just talking about them.

Just start talking!

Even though I had several spots where I could have done better, I am still really proud of myself that I did it! It was really nerve-wracking to get up in front of people and talk. There’s a fear of rejection – and that’s really tough to overcome.

What is your first talk going to be about?